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Climate and ungulate browsing impair regeneration dynamics in spruce-fir-beech forests in the French Alps

Abstract : Abstract Key message Different components of water balance and temperature reduce density and height growth of saplings of Picea abies (L.) H. Karst (Norway spruce), Abies alba Mill. (silver fir) and Fagus sylvatica L. (European beech) in mixed uneven-aged forests in the French Alps and Jura mountains. Ungulate browsing is an additional pressure on fir and beech that could jeopardise the renewal of these species in the future. Context The uncertainty in tree recruitment rates raises questions about the factors affecting regeneration processes in forests. Factors such as climate, light, competition and ungulate browsing pressure may play an important role in determining regeneration, forest structures and thus future forest composition. Aims The objective of this study was to quantify sapling densities and height increments of spruce, fir and beech and to identify dominant environmental variables influencing them in mixed uneven-aged forests in the French Alps and Jura mountains. Methods Sapling height increment and density were recorded in 152 plots, and non-linear mixed models were obtained to establish relations between them and environmental factors known to affect regeneration, namely altitude, slope, aspect, canopy openness, soil characteristics, temperature, precipitation and ungulate browsing. Results Regeneration density, varying from 0 to 7 saplings per m 2 , decreased with sapling height and was also negatively affected for spruce by PET, but positively for fir by precipitation and for beech by mean annual soil water content. Height increment reached up to 50 cm annually, increasing with sapling height and canopy openness and decreasing under high maximum summer temperatures for spruce and beech. The statistical effect of different environmental variables varied slightly among species but trends were quite similar. Additionally, ungulate browsing was high, with fir being the most intensely browsed, followed closely by beech, while spruce was rarely browsed. Conclusions All these results suggest that more temperature warming and a decrease in water availability could negatively impact sapling growth and density in the three species, with possible reduction of forest renewal fluxes. The observed increase of ungulate populations leading to increased browsing could be particularly detrimental to fir saplings.
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Contributor : Philippe Balandier Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Tuesday, April 12, 2022 - 2:46:32 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, April 28, 2022 - 2:35:40 PM

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Mithila Unkule, Christian Piedallu, Benoit Courbaud, Philippe Balandier. Climate and ungulate browsing impair regeneration dynamics in spruce-fir-beech forests in the French Alps. Annals of Forest Science, Springer Nature (since 2011)/EDP Science (until 2010), 2022, 79 (1), pp.Article number: 11. ⟨10.1186/s13595-022-01126-y⟩. ⟨hal-03639012⟩

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